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Imaginary Friends

                                      Imaginary Friends

                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

A friend is a second self” Aristotle.

All comments are welcome, and will receive a response.

Everything I’ve read about early childhood development indicates having an imaginary friend, or friends, is normal. Normal? Although certainly a candidate for such a phenomenon, I never had an imaginary friend. Wow, talk about getting picked last for the team, or not at all. But, the whole Cosmos?

So, I learned about this later in life, like I learned that many people dream in black and white. Surely these must be people who didn’t have color tv?

I also learned some people talk in their sleep. Long ago and far away, on a bona fide Category 1 Alert, I had to temporarily bunk with two other guys. That made for really crowded quarters but, working solo and only at night I was on a different schedule. Quietly preparing to leave for duty late one night I noticed that one of the two sleeping guys was mumbling something. I was certain he was asleep but I engaged him with a question. As he answered, the other guy started talking, answering the comments the first guy made in response to my question. Curious, I coached a bit more and by the time I quietly left they were in conversation with each other. I was positive then, and now, they were asleep. The next day they each said they remembered nothing of it.

I think the term friend is applied too easily and has been for long before Facebook. How many times have you heard someone referring to a friend of theirs and, when you asked the name, they said, Uh, I can’t remember just now? What about this person qualified them for the category Friend? I think the term acquaintance is not only more appropriate, but more likely accurate. Yes, I realize that word is multi-syllabic and therefore too inconvenient for many. In a society fueled by grunts it is unlikely to gain currency.

Some years ago I worked with a man who told me he had a girlfriend for sex and a girlfriend for intelligent conversation. So I asked him, Where does your wife fit in all of this? His answer: Oh, you know. Family, kids and all that. Of course, it’s also too easy to presume that every relative is a friend. When facing pressure to attend a relative’s party or other function I have long been in the habit of asking myself, If this person were not a relative, would I have them as a friend? It’s interesting to see how the balance of answers plays out.

I was reminded of those two sleep talkers when I visited a cousin at his home in Newport, Rhode Island. This guy is a relative and a friend, though he and I both seem to understand we can take just so much of each other. Short visits are best.

Several of us gathered before dinner in his upstairs drawing room filled floor to ceiling with centuries of art and antiques mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. Watching everyone settle their modern physiques into ancient furniture, my gaze fell upon a “something in this picture doesn’t belong” object. It seemed to be a truncated plastic cone sitting on a table probably once owned by some moustachioed potentate. As I was about to ask the provenance of this exquisite object my cousin said, “Alexa….” and asked “her” to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor. A very lovely voice agreed to do this and in an instant we were transported. Thereafter I found it was possible to engage Alexa in basic conversations. You just have to know how to appropriately phrase questions and statements; a bit like conversing with a stranger.

Still warm inside from that marvelous voice, I found that Google had come out with a similar device. Of course, my first thought was to get them both in a room and try to get them talking to each other. Admittedly, my inspiration came not simply from the sleep talkers cited above, but largely from Alan Turing. The polymath who spear headed the cracking of the German Enigma code, Turing is also considered by many to be the father of the modern computer. Turing’s central dream, before he was driven to take his own life, was to develop a computer of such sophistication that a human, in a blinded test, would be unable to determine if he was communicating with another person or with a machine. Some readers will recognize this as a central theme in the recent television re-make of Westworld. Much attention in the series is placed on the cosmetics, the human appearance and movement of the cyborgs. More on that later, but my focus is on whether the software in the Amazon device and the Google device could be tweaked such that placing them in the same room we could present each of them with the Turing test; could we ask them to tell us if they are communicating with a human or with a computer. Could they become friends? Would they argue? (Of course, a chaperone would be present to prevent untoward outcomes like little plastic devices popping out all over the room.)

The possibility that one plus one might equal more than two got me scanning my bookcases for Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near. A dense but readable tome, Kurzweil outlines and explains how we, albeit unknowingly, have marched to the edge of a new domain in which the equation will be reversed: Machines which had hitherto accepted instructions from Man and existed only as products of Man begin issuing their own instructions, including to Man, and begin constructing their own machines with intelligence and capabilities beyond our ability to understand. I have long thought many of us are already there. An avid fan and owner of sports/racing cars since my teens, I continually marveled at acquaintances who had no idea what happens between the ignition key and the wheels. “Somebody does” seemed to be the dismissive answer.

But to be frank, I have little to no idea what happens between my keyboard and the monitor I’m watching. By the way, I never went to secretarial school so I’m a few finger typer and I have to look at the keys, pausing to see if what I think I’ve (written?) makes sense. With voice command software I wonder if I could get Alexa to write my blog for me, or would it be far too atmospheric for the meager 3 pound jelly bean in my skull. Would you be able to tell?

Getting back to the perfectly realistic androids of West World, Japan has made amazing advances in this area, even developing a sex android that enables the user to simulate rape. Should that be off the market, or should it be considered a deterrent, a kind of release valve for those who would rape humans in its absence?

I’m well beyond the age where a mere assemblage of parts inspires me to do the Hokey Pokey. But I never considered that a basis for friendship anyway. What Kurzweil predicts is an autonomous (mind?) of such capacity as to leave me standing with ignition key in hand asking, What do I do now? Now THAT is exciting. But of course, we all know of the advent of self-driving cars. My question is: What happens when my car gets mad at me, perhaps for leering at the Aston Martin in the next lane?

As for looks, we’ve all heard someone say, Looks don’t matter. I’m not pushing Beauty and the Beast but I am seriously doubtful that that statement has no limits. But the age old question applies: What do you see in that person? I’ve had some friends, and still do. They are a very tiny percentage of my acquaintances. But this tiny percentage spans a rather large spectrum of easily apparent traits. The common denominator among these friends is a profoundly intellectual mind, the secret in plain sight. Over the years I’ve not been at all surprised when some acquaintances and certain relatives dismissed my friends as strange or out for something. Physically attractive female friends were dismissed as passing sex interests. Obviously, it takes a mind to recognize a mind.

If completely autonomous and self-conscious androids with emotional ranges to match mine were developed would they be a good choice as a friend? Up into my late teens I was a “hide my light” kind of kid. But I slowly opened up and even college was mostly a sleeper. However, what would a friendship be like with “someone” who could learn, understand, and apply an idea in a minuscule fraction of the time it takes me, if I do it at all? Before her death a woman lived and traveled several years with me. We were seamlessly matched, often deeply engaged in cooperative conversations into dawn of the next day. Of course, those acquaintances and relatives cited earlier presumed it was mainly sexual. As the saying goes, When you know only a hammer everything’s a nail.

I suspect some people with android friends may have a problem reconciling the onset of aging in themselves while the android is, physically, just as originally assembled. And, as the human mental function declines we might see the android having to ascend to a caretaker role. After all, we see versions of this play out in human to human relationships; one partner’s performance declines while the other remains basically vigorous. Unless you have a Galapagos tortoise or certain species of parrot for pets you experience similar disparities with your pets.

I have to cut this short for today. The toaster has plans.

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Destabilized

                                           Destabilized

                                      by Marco M. Pardi

Remember, behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.” George Carlin.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

This piece arises from an exchange of comments on the previous piece, particularly those of Austin and Julie. Specifically, the comments suggested an ongoing evolution of technology leading to a significant break with forms of human communication employed to this point. This theme has been growing in strength for some time; we nod knowingly when someone tells us even young children are so absorbed in their devices – Iphones, Ipads, and other technology enabling social media communication that they have either forgotten or never gained actual social skills. And, a great deal of space has been given to discussions of what appears to be the growing incivility of these electronically based communications.

Let’s assume for the moment the exchanges, especially on social media, have become cruder and more virulent. (While I’m sure many readers would say, “But of course they have” we might consider those readers may not have known the kids I knew so long ago. The same vulgarity, indeed the same vocabulary has been around for a long time.) Some blame this purported increase in vulgarity directed personally on the anonymity offered by screen names, and some say it is a general change in the culture. In some ways this controversy raises the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: Different languages produce different ways of thinking. For Sapir-Whorf to be relevant we would need to stipulate that the language employed by people using electronic means is somehow a different language or, at least, a form which forces or facilitates a different way of thinking. As mentioned above, I see no measurable difference in thinking. If there is a difference to be found it is in the willingness to express one’s thoughts.

But this raises another parallel. We have elsewhere considered the ageless question, Did crazy Johnny go off to war, or did war make Johnny crazy? Has there been a large reservoir of nasty people just waiting for an anonymous medium through which they could express their nastiness? Or, did the appearance of such a medium make some people nasty?

Although born in the early 1940’s, my command of American English flowered in the 1950’s. I well remember the proscriptions, especially in mass media, against saying certain words: pregnant was “in a family way” or, racier, “expecting”; menstruation was “time of the month”; and, at least one newscaster pronounced helicopter as heelicopter. Apparently it was too close to a forbidden word. Even common words could be problematic. An example comes from the exquisite 1932 Packard Twelve automobile with driver adjustable suspension via a plunger in the dashboard. An engraved plaque above the plunger read: IN-HARD : OUT-SOFT. That plaque lasted only slightly longer than the act it suggested.

Times seemed to be changing, however, when I entered the Air Force in January of ’61. While marching my Flight (85 men) across the training base I heard my WAF (Women in the Air Force) counterparts loudly berating their marching Flights with, “There’s ten thousand swingin’ dicks on this base and you ain’t gonna’ get a one less’en you get in step!!” Or, “When those left feet hit the ground I wanna’ hear them pussies suck air!!” Do young women even know these words? Colorful. Intimidating. But for some reason I just couldn’t match those inspiring words. Nor could I work up the nerve to even say Hello to my female counterparts. Since we often halted our Flights right next to each other outside the mess hall I had the opportunity to speak to the WAF Flight Commanders. But, I felt I would probably need my teeth for the meal. Still, I never took their attitude personally. Probably a good thing since on one of my assignments I had a colleague/part-time girl friend who was a British WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corps). Born and raised in London’s notorious East End, she was lovely in a lithe but deadly sort of way. And, when even slightly irked, she would emit an unbroken, non-repeating string of words that would dull a porcupine’s quills at 50 meters.

But really, with the general loosening up just starting with Hugh Hefner’s ongoing manifestos in Playboy magazine (begun in the ’50’s), Lenny Bruce (convicted in 1964 of obscenity in speech), George Carlin (Seven Dirty Words), and Richard Pryor media began reflecting what was daily speech for many. Not only is the term pregnant acceptable now, the afternoon soap operas will show you how to get there. So, are the media catching up with culture change, or are the media driving culture change?

I’m not convinced that merely knowing the words leads to using the words. My vocabulary is fairly extensive and I sometimes arrange terms in unusual ways. In the military I occasionally heard two airmen square off in a contest known as the “Dirty Dozens”. Essentially, one throws an insult at the other. The other responds with a deeper level of insult. As a crowd gathers, which it invariably did, the insults fly back and forth until one speaker could not match or exceed the last insult of the other speaker. The outdone speaker then yielded, although the reaction of the crowd ratified the winner. Even though the two participants were nearly nose to nose no fists got thrown, and generally the insults drew huge laughs, even from the participants. And that was basically the point. The participants were playing to the audience to see who could score the best laugh line at the expense of the other. There were no vicious attacks in those laugh lines. Situation defused.

One interesting feature of these contests was that unusually foul language and actual name calling rarely occurred. In fact, the person who was truly in the wrong may emerge as the winner simply by the finesse of language implying authority and correctness. But winner was a relative term as most observers knew who was at fault.

I try hard to avoid the flame thrower exchanges I see on social media sites. I feel I do not gain anything from spending my time with them; on the contrary, they demean me as an audience member. And I have zero tolerance for the Argumentum ad Hominem tactic so often used: even relatively poorly educated Dirty Dozens combatants rarely reduced themselves to that level.

Undeniably we are exposed to and therefore aware of changes in the communication patterns we see around us. But the willingness to use foul and aggressive language has long been there. Yes, finger flick media devices, especially when registered to absurd “screen names” enable the proliferation of foul, aggressive, and even a sort of primitive communication. But providing the means is different from providing the motivation.

On other sites I have encountered people who embody the worst of the hiding sniper. I once informed a site manager that a particular comment, being clearly libelous, could bring a law suit against a site even if the person who posted the comment could not be identified. The comment was quickly withdrawn. But again, I just do not find this new. More frequent, certainly, but not new.

Is our communication pattern changing toward a more abrupt, even primitive level? I can see it narrowing. I assigned written papers in my classes. Most were submitted from a word processing program. Few were handed in written. Not thinking much about it I wrote, in longhand, comments on the papers before handing them back. One student startled me by coming up and asking me to read my comments to him. He explained that he had not been taught how to read cursive. Do they not teach that in primary school anymore. Did he get through high school like this? Is a printed name a legal signature? Does anyone care?

Some have expressed concern that our electronic communications are narrowing our speech patterns, therefore possibly our thinking patterns. Many media limit characters; Twitter is a good example. I’m not much into electronic social media, despite this blog. I barely know how to use MyFace and Your Tube and will never use Twitter or Instagram. But writing is not language. Writing is the recording of language. And, this too is nothing new. In various intelligence operations one strictly observes the communications protocol, especially when transmitting over un-encrypted media: brief and precise. That’s been around since smoke signals. But that does not mean the intelligence operative conducts everyday conversations in such ways. Granted, I’ve known some ex-military who try to do this, but they just haven’t grown up.

In my schooling I was taught Latin was the most efficient Western language. It had the most stand-alone morphemes capable of conveying a complete idea. A modern language study was carried out by University of Lyon researchers François Pellegrino, Christophe Coupé, and Egidio Marsico using English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, and German. They listened to speakers reading aloud at their normal cadence and devised formulas for determining “information rate” per syllable. Surprisingly, English came out on top, with Japanese a distant last place.

Looking back at screen names reminds of the inside names given to Presidents. Most people are aware of Secret Service designations for each President. But within the “7th floor” crowd at the Central Intelligence Agency one hears far more amusing designations: John F. Kennedy was “Mattress Jack”. Guess who is “Tweety Bird”.

Seeing Things

                                                                Seeing Things

                                                            By Marco M. Pardi

                                                                 mpardi.com

“As a rule we perceive what we want to perceive…The unexpected is usually not received at all. It is not seen or heard, but ignored. Or it is misunderstood.” Peter F. Drucker

1974

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

A few nights ago a Cosmically insignificant event occurred: a tiny speck of dirty rock, variegated with water and gasses, completed another orbit around its mediocre star.  There is no evidence the Cosmos noted this event.  Nor is there evidence any but one of the multitude of living species residing on this speck noticed.  Not all members of the one species that did notice, the apex predator/parasite species, marked the occasion the same way though many of them shared one behavioral characteristic.  Many continued their efforts to fend off death by quick attack or slow starvation. Others continued their efforts to bring about death through quick attack or slow starvation.  Many gathered in groups to participate in ritualized behavior such as counting down the dropping of a ball or watching fireworks climbing into the skies. And almost all in this world wide group shared the characteristic of mentally displacing themselves into an imagined better future while attending the possibility of being denied that future by bullets or bombs provided by the previous year’s terrorist, military, paramilitary, or police groups.

What I find interesting is the perception that New Year’s Day is some kind of religious event or, perhaps, simply an event generated as an artifact of the calendar.   No religion can claim this day.  In fact, no calendar can claim its parentage. It is simply one of countless trillions of such events constantly occurring throughout the Cosmos, from aeons before the advent of the Apex Predator on this speck to long after this ignorant, self absorbed creature destroys itself, taking most or all fellow species with it.  

I was pondering this in the days leading up to and surrounding this yearly event as I underwent surgeries to remove occluded lenses from my eyes. The surgeries themselves did not clarify what was in my mind. But the “down time” provided time for thought, especially as I chose “monovision” for my new lenses. But I’ll explain.

Ordinarily there are 5 levels of possible lens implants one may choose from. And, two options I’ll explain in a moment. I chose the implant level which puts a lens for close up – reading, computer, seeing what you’re kissing, etc. – in one eye and a lens for distance – driving, avoiding people before they see you, and shooting someone who otherwise had a chance to flee – in the other eye.  The options offered were: lenses that enable X-ray vision to see through everyone’s clothes; or, lenses that ensured you would see everything your wife’s way.

Not anticipating a position with the TSA, I declined the first option. The second one, marketed as “Domestic Tranquility”, was briefly tempting but I also declined that. Mustn’t let my powers of deception atrophy.

The first of the two procedures was preceded by an interview which felt more appropriate to a heart transplant. The nurse asked questions such as, “Do you have any anxiety about the surgery?”  “What, you mean about some masked guy coming at my eye with a knife? Gosh, no. Happens every day.” Perhaps she read something into that; the propofol was injected into my IV tube out of my sight. So, I was here. Then I was here. “Where’d everybody go?” I didn’t get to count down. I didn’t get to see the fluid go in the tube. I had no idea how much time had passed. Perhaps worst of all, I had no idea where I was relative to the mediocre star we call “The Sun”.

And so, as I weaved my way out of the hospital with a mini colander taped over the first eye operated on I began to ponder the importance we place on the passage of time.  Some aspects of the recovery period did take time to adjust. Things like the first few mornings awakening with that colander and fearing that overnight I had begun morphing into THE FLY.  After the second procedure my mind is still adjusting to clear vision in one eye and blurry vision in the other, depending on the distance I am from an object.

But my mind’s eye is also looking at the transition from “last year” to “this year”. What’s the big deal? In recent years I’ve been around increasingly fewer people, and those people are older.  My brother is still 3 ½ years older, and it seems unlikely I’ll catch up. So, I’m hearing far fewer New Year’s resolutions. These always amused me.  It seems to me that if there’s one sure way to drag the past around with you it’s the resolution to change in the future. You have identified something in the past that displeased you, so you march into the future with Mr Past Monkey on your back, always chattering in your ear to not do or to do something relevant to the past. I wrote in an earlier piece the example of the two monks and the girl crossing a muddy street: “I put her down on the other side. It is you who are still carrying her.”

Certainly some resolutions do some good. If nothing else, they fill in the days.  I’ve heard several end-stage patients describe the last days as “just passing time”.  But what happens when efforts to enact the resolutions fail?  In the interim between college and graduate school I worked briefly with a State agency charged with rehabilitating incarcerated minors convicted of crimes, not just awaiting trial.  One particular young man could truly have been a “textbook case”.  Serving yet another in a string of sentences, this time in a maximum security juvenile lock-up, he told me of the many times he had resolved to change his ways. But his monkey had him by the throat. Every time he did even something minor, as in putting a pen that wasn’t his in his pocket he jumped all the way to the conclusion he was a born criminal, and he acted out on that conclusion.

Another insight came from a former colleague, an Anthropologist at SAMHSA – Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. She told me caseworkers and therapists had begun trying to break the deeply held notion that success in fighting addiction was measured as total and ongoing abstinence. SAMHSA had come to realize this was counter-productive in the same way that young man’s inflexibility was throwing him into a deadly game of Either/Or. People will “slip, fall off the wagon” or whatever you want to call it. The issue was not whether one falls; it’s whether one gets up.

And, I’ve often seen what I felt was an egocentric view of the world and its events. Western culture worships personal responsibility, it is characterized as a “guilt culture” versus a “shame culture”. That is, the individual, the guilty party, must be identified. It rejects the influence of the surrounding culture and certainly “The Fates”.  A discourse of Fate versus Free Will would be, even for me, unbearable here.  

And so, when I hear a person declaring a New Year’s resolution I wonder what they will do and how they will feel when they do not live up to it.  I suppose I’m fortunate in never having been a resolution person. Analysts can make of that what they will. Perhaps low self esteem caused me to predict my own failure.  Perhaps high self esteem caused me to be overly self-forgiving.  Or maybe I was always lazy.

I would resolve to keep writing this blog, or maybe not. Tomorrow is another day. No use dragging today into it. As the saying goes, When you stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future you wind up pissing on the present. With my better eyesight now, I hope to keep my shoes dry.

 

Mary

                                                                        Mary

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                  mpardi.com

“There is a unity of the body with the environment, as well as a unity of the body and soul into one person.” Alfred North Whitehead. (1861-1947)

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All comments are well appreciated and will receive a response.

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Readers of this site who peruse the comments will recognize the name Mary.  She has been a consistent, thoughtful and very generous commentator.  Even while traveling she made the effort to assure me she was reading my words and thinking them through.  Her comments almost always contributed to and enhanced what I had written, on any subject. In personal communication she carried much further, providing her thoughts and opinions in ways which were always supportive even if, at times, advising me of better ways of thinking than I had chosen for myself.

An Anthropology student of mine in the early 1970’s, Mary was one of several thousand such students who passed through my classes in my ten years at a particular college.  Some I remember, most I don’t.

Since those years I have traveled much of the world, so deeply involved in other careers that it was not long before I began to occasionally recall those teaching years as, “Oh. Yeah” memories; factual but not very meaningful.  And communication, even had I sought it, with anyone from those years would have been near impossible and, in most circumstances, impermissible.

So it was with surprise, and some trepidation, that I opened an email some years ago to discover that I had been discovered. Mary had found me. On the Internet.  There was nothing challenging in the content, only a self identification and questions only I could answer. And by some fortune I did choose to answer.

In the years since we exchanged countless emails and added additional email correspondents into a fairly steady group.  Mary became a highly sought after thinker in at least a couple of these groups. We very much enjoyed her reports of her constant travels, her impressions of people and places, her joys and travails with her dogs. I often urged her to start writing a blog.

But in the background was a career history that few people knew.  Mary did not pursue Anthropology. However, she took some principles from it and applied them to degrees and a career in Social Work.  Her work immersed her in many of the human tragedies that lead so many social workers to leave the field and not look back.  She not only stayed with it, she married a psychologist, raised a family, and helped found a clinic. Through several geographic moves she also acquired and raised a variety of dogs, most of whom could be described as Special Needs dogs.

But her inherent nurturing of non-humans and humans alike found many expressions and, at times, some quandaries.  In one set of email exchanges she sent me pictures of a mountain lion lounging on her Colorado property waiting for her dogs to come outside.  Concerned for the dogs, but also for the lion, she asked how to permanently scare it away without hurting it. I told her that her only safe option was a Taurus Judge .410 shotgun revolver and I instructed her in how to load the cylinder in a graduated non-lethal to lethal way.  As far as I know she did so and solved the problem. But then a rat took up residence inside a storeroom in her house.  She set up a game camera and sent videos of the rat doing ratty things in the storeroom.  Again, how to evict the rat harmlessly?  I told her once a rat has found a nice place they will not give it up.  She captured the rat a couple of times in a humane live trap and transported it miles from her home before releasing it.  A few night later it was back. To be sure it was the same rat she again trapped it and painted its tail before driving miles to release it.  A few days later, a painted rat in the storeroom.  I’m not sure how or if she resolved the rat problem but it was starting to look like our negotiations with North Korea.

Mary was raised a conservative Catholic. As such she had an appreciation for many of the manifestations of cognitive dissonance among people whose faith puts them in one world while they live in another. She appreciated the aphorism that: Man invented God, made this God omnipresent, then failed to see God all around and within themselves.  Below is a typical email from Mary which I think captures her personhood quite well:

“I’ve been so busy and traveling I have forgotten what I have told you about.  I know I have been derelict contributing to the email group. I understand if my membership is revoked.  I think I told you both in May we had a 4ft snow storm.  I saw something in the snow and checked it out.  It was a hummingbird, who I was pretty sure was dead.  Let me switch gears here a moment. I was just in Florida with my cousin who was talking about how she feels we haven’t scratched the surface in seeing animals in nature.  She said, like the videos we all most likely have seen now where they have glasses for people who are colored blind and see colors for the first time.  They cry and ask how people who can see real colors can get anything done and just not stare at the colors all day. She thinks some day we will see animals like that.  So, back to the hummingbird.  I held it in my hands warming it up and sure enough it came back to life.  When it seemed fully resurrected I went outside and opened my hand.  It looked me right in the eye and then flew off.  I sit on my deck around sunset daily.  Every day, since the humming bird left, when I’m sitting on the deck he comes and flies right at my eyes and hovers a bit then takes off.  I’ve been gone for about a week.  When I got home yesterday I sat on the deck and unbelievably, I’m sure it is the same hummingbird, came and sat on my thigh.  It had to have sat there for almost 5 minutes.  I’m sure I’m colored blind to what happens in nature but now and again, I’m not.” 

Mary’s sudden death is still a great shock – and this comes from a person very familiar with death.  It is hard even to write this as I will post it and part of me will look daily for her comments.  No matter where she was or what she was doing she always took time to post some comments.  When I started teaching college classes all those decades ago I quickly realized the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. Many people read these posts, very few bother themselves to talk with me. Mary always did.  To the extent that we are in some way the people with whom we interact I feel an empty space inside. I have felt that before, and long ago realized one does not seek out a “replacement part” to fill that space. One remembers that person and carries forward the lessons and benefits of having known them, thus making ongoing relationships with others that much more fulfilling and rewarding for all.

Thank you, Mary.

Thanks Given

                                                               Thanks Given

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

“Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”

Tacitus. (CE 56?-120?)

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All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

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Those of you familiar with American holidays know we just passed through Thanksgiving – or it passed through us.  Or, wait a minute, maybe that was Black Friday. It’s sometimes hard to remember what to celebrate in a society which conflates consumerism with happiness.

This year I’ve noticed a great increase in the frequency of people asking, “What are you thankful for?” The most egregious example came from the White House press secretary when, during a daily briefing, she demanded that each member of the press corps with a question preface their question with a statement of what they were thankful for. I might have said I would be thankful for the truth, but understood it was not to be found here.

Even the gaggle of newscasters and television talk show hosts parrot this question and respond with maudlin replies from their little worlds. I suspect the very marked increase this year reflects the sense of helplessness and resignation as the once good American society is finally and admittedly lost to the Fascist regime which seized power last November. The replies portray a desperate search for something pleasant in an overwhelmingly unpleasant reality.

But I always had problems with the What are you thankful for question.  The term thankful implies, to me, a specific entity as the recipient of the thanks. Most if not all of my life I have viewed everything holistically; isolating something as an autonomous entity is artificial, incomplete, and misleading. I recognize that we do this, but only for the sake of establishing order in what otherwise would be our chaotic mind. So, when someone asks my views on gratitude to God, I say the question is irrelevant; something which is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient is everything at once, hence it is no thing and cannot even be referred to much less thanked. I could more easily thank Orgasma von Klampitt who, some sixty years ago, introduced me to all things carnal. I suspect she would respond with, Who are you?

Perhaps I should send my thanks further back.  Thank you, Big Bang, for exploding outward some 14 billion years ago, sending energy into nothingness in a gigantic pinball game that, in one infinitesimally tiny area of space eventually resulted in the collision of a sperm cell and an egg from which came me. I’m not ready to render thanks for all that came afterward, the jury is still out on that. And there have even been times when I questioned the wisdom of blowing yourself up in the first place (and I do mean first place). 

I think a lot may have happened in those 14 billion years.  Since quantum mechanics teaches us to view existence in probabilities and potentials, was (am) I in there somewhere?  We sometimes tell children they were once a “twinkle in your daddy’s eye”.  Was I a twinkle in some supernova?

But look, here we are, slogging through life like inchworms on a flat and finite plane unable to look back for origins or look ahead to the exact day we fall off.  Yet, completely out of context we attribute causes and declare effects pronouncing some to be thankful for and others bad luck. Does that make a shred of sense?  Is it any wonder so many people are fully embedded in the “It’s all about me!” mentality? I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that gratitude, thankfulness, whatever you want to call it is, if it is realized in the fullness of context, remarkably like the triple omni concept of God:  Omni-present means there is nothing it is not in, so there is no sense in conceiving of it since the act of conceiving of it immediately isolates it into whatever it is you think it is and disregards the rest. When I look at how certain events in my life unfolded I can say with certainty I did not set them in motion (and that’s as well for “good” and “bad”); thinking otherwise, when realized in full context, awards me the power of omnipotence. It also suggests I did so fully knowingly, giving me the power of omniscience.  

How much of our lives is our own doing and how much the doing of other people, factors, etc.?  For untold generations people have treated maladies as something the affected persons brought on themselves. Worse yet, I’ve heard people declare birth defects in newborns as divine justice for some imagined transgression of the parents.  Cancer patients faced suspicion that some behavior, smoking, drinking, etc. caused them to “get” cancer.  It must have been allowed in from the outside. Our language still betrays these biases: What’s gotten into you? What’s eating you?

But attitudes are changing, if only slowly.  A few years ago I had a run of atrial fibrillation with tachycardia.  I went to a hospital emergency room.  While addressing the issues the physician asked my academic and career background. He then asked me, “What’s going on? I have six patients of various ages with symptoms just like yours.”

I reminded him we were in the midst of a violent solar storm and, the heart being a largely electrical device, I was not surprised at possible effects from the incoming solar electric activity. We considered that and I promised to do a retrospective analysis of the MMWR (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report) for the appropriate weeks to determine any statistical spikes in reported cardiac issues.  Indeed, I did the analysis and found that, unfortunately, sub-lethal cardiac events were not recorded. And, I could find no cardiac lethality rate exceeding standard deviation.

Yet, I well remember chronic episodes of these symptoms when stationed in places where, for instance, air pollution was profound or where I was at great altitude.  I do not recall deciding to spend the day gasping as my heart leapt randomly around my chest or my pulse stuck at 160 beats per minute. 

I recently read that one of the survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting was later run over and killed by a hit and run driver.  I’m sure some people would say Death tried and missed in Vegas but got him in the end. Others would say, No, he was not supposed to die in Vegas. His death was supposed to be a life changing event for the driver of the car that hit him.  These are inch worms some of us know; they are the ones who look at the present and extrapolate the past, complete with “plans” and events to be thankful for.  Commonly we hear, “It was God’s plan.” And we hear that from the very same people who assure us it is impossible to know the mind of God.

Some people express gratitude for longevity. My impression is they haven’t yet gotten old enough to experience being old.  Most of the truly old people I’ve known spent their last years saying they would be thankful when it’s over.

For me, a person who is thankful for extra years is simply a person who mistakenly presumed they were supposed to already be dead.  There’s no one to thank. There is, however, someone (the thankful person) who needs to re-examine the quality of their thinking.

So feel free to call me an ingrate.  I won’t thank you for it, but neither will I blame you.  I am, however, thankful for any and all your comments.

 

Attention: Humans

                                                                       Attention: Humans

                                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

“People in our culture have a morbid tendency to avoid blame, because they do not wish to take the trouble to change their conduct in any way: blame-avoidance and blame-transference are therefore endemic amongst us. These are substitutes for repentance and renewal.”

BEHAVIOR RESEARCH PROJECT (Texas) 1951

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven. Hindu saying.

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All comments welcome and provided a response.

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Humans, we recently became aware that one or more of your number published a plea that you no longer refer to solitary mass murderers as “lone wolves”.  While we wolves have not seen this publication and therefore cannot give it due credit, we, the wolves, wish to enhance the theme with information and thoughts by which you, with your self declared intellectual superiority might benefit.

First, we remind you that you are animals.  Oh? Think not? What are you then, plants? Stones? We find it curious that an animal which bristles at being called an animal uses so many comparisons to other animals.  You say someone eats like a pig, is stubborn as a mule, reproduces like rabbits, and drinks like a fish. Yet you say someone is brave as a lion, has a memory like an elephant, is agile as a mountain goat, sly as a fox, wise as an owl, and noble as an eagle. Even one of your classic civilizations credited us. Remember the legend of the two infant brothers raised by one of our female wolves? Of course, when the boys grew up Romulus murdered Remus and went on to found Rome. We suspect we should have seen that coming.  But doubtless you can think of more examples.

Second, as animals you, like any other species of plant or animal exist only through the relationship you have with your environment.  Sure, you have developed endless technology to intervene between you and the normal variations and processes in “nature”.  But in truth, you are the Apex Invasive Species, you are the Apex Predator on this planet.  You have spread your teeming masses to every livable continent on this planet, despoiling everywhere including Antarctica.  Your “pesticides” are found in the body fat of almost every species no matter where they are.  You claim to need these pesticides to assure your crops. Yet every year you throw out millions of tons of food before it ever reaches the market. Why? It’s not aesthetically pleasing. Or, you want to ensure high prices. Your plastics are found in the dead bodies of animals you will never see.

You came into our forests, thriving ecosystems for a broad spectrum of biodiversity, and you stripped them bare for an extremely narrow ecosystem you know as pastureland to raise cattle and sheep, animals which require huge amounts of fresh water and which emit even larger volumes of deadly methane gas.  You then force these animals into slaughter houses where, if they are subject to your religious laws such as kosher or halal, you slit their throats and let them stagger around in their own blood until they collapse.  Of course, most of you don’t do this; you allocate the dirty work to butchers who will wrap the meat in pretty packages for you.  You cannot stomach the reality of getting food for yourself. You eat some and throw the rest away. Our cousins, the coyotes, have long known they can subsist entirely on the dumpsters outside your restaurants and fast food joints.

You came into our forests to kill us when in fact you destroyed our food source and laid out a buffet of cattle and sheep we had little choice but to take our sustenance from. You gas our dens to kill our children so they will not grow up to sustain the balance with our prey animals such as deer and elk, animals you want to kill for your own amusement or because, having killed their natural predator they have become overpopulated.  You claim hunting is to “put meat on the table” when the money you spent on a hunting vehicle, fuel, high powered rifle and ammunition, hunting license and tags would keep meat from the local grocery store on your table for many months if not years.  No, you just enjoy feeling the power of killing an unarmed animal as in those “canned hunts” so popular in States like Texas. You kill an average of 96 African elephants a day, taking the ivory for trinkets and leaving the animal to rot.  You kill scores of rhinos yearly taking only the horn the powder of which you think will make your pitiful penises erect. You de-fin live sharks, leaving them to die a miserable death of starvation while you cook the fins for soup. You torture bulls to death, even setting their horns on fire for your amusement. And, sadly, the list goes on.

You raise populations of fur bearing animals, including “Man’s best friend”, in cages to electrocute them for your fur trimmed fashion garments and soft gloves made from dog skin.

You “introduced” us (we call it “returned” us) into parts of the northwest United States to show how good you are, how ecologically advanced you are. What happened?  The ecosystem quickly began recovering.  Streams that had become fast moving torrents yielding flash flooding and unsuitable conditions for fish, beavers, and a multitude of other animals began returning to a state which supports the balance of life. How so?  After you had trapped and shot us to near extinction the deer and elk were then free to wade into the wetlands, where they had been vulnerable to us as they sank a bit into the mud,  and eat the young shoots growing there.  Those shoots would have grown into the plants that stabilized the stream, keeping it from eroding the banks and making the water unlivable and dangerous.  As we returned, the deer and elk avoided those young shoots and the streams returned to a livable ecosystem.  And now you want to trap, gas, and shoot us again.      

Recently one of your “intelligent” hunters shot and killed a family therapy dog from ten feet away.  He claimed he thought it was one of us.  Apparently his only familiarity with us comes from the Big Bad Wolf type cartoons you scare your children with, just as the only familiarity so many of your self-styled “cowboys” have with cattle is the drawing of Elsie on their milk carton.

We know of no other animal which kills for enjoyment on the scale you do. You even kill each other in massive numbers.  You gut programs that help people live healthy and educated lives in favor of programs to develop even deadlier weapons for killing each other. No other animal on the face of this Earth is so consumed by and dedicated to the mass extermination of its own kind. No other animal on the face of this Earth claims divine sanction from some spiritual being as the justification for exterminating people who do not believe in or worship this particular being.     

For these reasons and many more we, the wolves, demand you cease and desist from calling your murderers, whether killers of a few or killers of many, “lone wolves”.  That is a despicable slander against our good name and against our long standing place in nature.  In fact, we can think of no greater slander than calling one of us “human”.

Enemy of the State

                                                                   Enemy of the State

                                                                    by Marco M. Pardi

“It is not enough for a prophet to be inspired by God; he also must be informed about the world. The world and its fate are very dear to him. There is no hostility to civilization, only to its abuses.” Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) The Prophets, 11, 1962

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All comments welcome and each will receive a response.

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In discussing the Anthropology of group organization and the development of political systems I distinguished between Nation and State, a commonly overlooked or misunderstood distinction. Nation refers to people of the same or very similar background and values no matter their location relative to each other. Thus, Cherokee Nation includes people in various (of the United) States or elsewhere even if they never meet. It is their demonstrable and felt ethnic solidarity which places them in the Nation, not their presence within a geo-political boundary. There can be no Nation in which there are no people.

“State” is a geographically bounded abstract.  It can be visualized as a flow chart of power and responsibilities, with each position currently empty. So, if every person left the “State of Missouri” the State would not cease to exist. It would simply not be populated, just as the chart would not be populated.

As some, not all, human groups developed from egalitarian bands to council of elders led tribes and on to single person led chiefdoms they continued to State level.  However, the continuation included the personhood of the hereditary leader first seen at the chiefdom level. Hence, the evolution of the “royal family” be it kings, pharaohs, monarchs, or emperors.  This readily provided what seemed to be a natural conflation of the person of the leader with the nature of the State.  And as all power was vested in the leader, what was good for the leader was good for the State; the obverse, of course being what was bad for the leader was bad for the State. It did not take long for the “what” to be vested in a “who”. Who was good for the leader was good for the State, etc.  

That is, views whether supportive or opposing, do not spring to life sui generis; they are conceived, developed, and held by persons.  Those persons, then, are subject to judgment. And history provides a rich tapestry depicting the various degrees to which views could be freely expressed or in some fashion suppressed by “the State”.

My federal career spanned nine Presidents. Each was different, but the ones from one certain Party had one thing in common: they initiated and developed all out attacks on the free press ( every medium).  Several stations were threatened with loss of license. I first saw the media attacks with Richard Nixon’s henchman Spiro Agnew, later forced to resign for income tax evasion. I think this era saw the inception of the terms “liberal, left-wing media” into the American lexicon. And, of course, it was that free press which educated us regarding Nixon’s attempt to cover up Watergate (though the press did not discuss Watergate’s true purpose or who was behind it). 

During the Watergate investigation President Nixon’s “Enemies List” came to light. But this was a personal list, a list of people who, in Nixon’s mind, could do him political damage. There were no agencies or institutions listed. A strong concern at the time was whether Nixon would pressure the Internal Revenue Service to take action against his “enemies”. Daniel Schorr, an Emmy winning journalist and prominent name on the list, had reason to fear for more than his bank account.

Later, as the evangelical religion industry largely absorbed this political party, sharing some of its feeding with the National Rifle Association and, covertly, with various White Supremacist groups the free press was also branded as “secular and profane”.  Jerry Falwell, an architect of the mega-church televangelist industry crowed he had gotten Reagan elected. Fitting that another actor, Charlton Heston, who seemed to have never gotten over his role as Moses (Ten Commandments) became the leader and spokesperson of the NRA.  And emerging as the State “spokesperson” was, then in its infancy, FOX News, a consortium many have called The Voice of the 4th Reich.

Every subsequent president from that political party has criticized the national news media, with the exception of FOX News.  None have emerged as having kept a personal enemies list.  However, the message was clear when the man who was president during the September 11th Twin Towers attacks asserted boldly, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” That covered a lot of demographics.  In fact, during this time the Director of Personnel at a federal agency in which I served asked me into his office to review a document from the White House.

It enumerated a long list of the president’s priorities item by item with a space for the reader to sign each item affirming their allegiance to the president and his plans.  According to the accompanying paperwork, this was to be distributed to all personnel in that agency and returned to the White House.

I read it through and simply stated that my allegiance, as in my oath, was to the Constitution and to the people of the United States.  This document was a prolonged and exacting loyalty oath to a person.

The Director agreed and, after a few others expressed the same view, sent the document back that day. Not long after, spurious charges were leveled at the Director. Knowing my career was at risk, and why, I testified in closed hearing on his behalf.  Yet, he was unsurprisingly forced into early retirement.  The hearing was a sham.

The current president is long on record as placing personal loyalty to him above all other considerations in an underling.  And, as the underlings absorb this value they act in their turn. An example is Nick Ayers, a former Georgia Republican political consultant now Chief of Staff to the Vice President. As reported by Jay Bookman, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, during the week of this writing Ayers “urged top Republican donors to take out anybody in the GOP who dares to question or challenge (the President), a step that would pretty much complete its transformation into a personality cult. ‘”Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him. If – and this sounds crass – we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him.”‘

The attacks coming out of the White House multiply and expand daily. The United States has long been suffering from the It Can’t Happen Here syndrome. The drivers of this syndrome are clever enough to segment the threats in ways beyond the ability of many Americans to connect. Stand back a moment and consider the variety of daily news grabbers, from taking a knee to bump stocks to health reform to tax reform to N. Korea to the Iran deal to castrating the environmental agencies to giving religions the power to buy elections to silencing unapproved news outlets to stripping women of their right to control their own reproductive function and on and on. A mosaic should be forming. And the world has seen it before.  

The attacks on the First Amendment are stunning. The current president is threatening the licenses of the major news networks.  They tell the truth, showing in his own words how he contradicts himself and capriciously undercuts and insults the very people he put into office. So, he calls it “fake news”.

The drive to reduce or eliminate freedom of choice in reproduction is nothing more than a drive to ensure a population desperate enough to work at low wages without benefits or recourse. And, it ensures a ready pool of cannon fodder to further the Fascist aims of the Republican Party. Wrapping it in the guise of morals is a vile and simple minded hoax.

As clearly spelled out in the Constitution, the State is a structure, not a person. This State is structured to afford and guarantee the people (Nation) certain freedoms.  An enemy of the State is a person who wishes to destroy the structure.  As we see the daily efforts by the current president to regress into a society in which the Head of State IS the State/Nation, we might ask ourselves, Who is the Enemy of the State?